Despite all your efforts to clean the air in your Troutdale, OR home, your living space may have far more pollutants than the air outdoors. Although the outside air is rife with contaminants from moving vehicles, passing airplanes, and the secondhand smoke of tobacco users, it’s probably a lot safer than the air that building residents are constantly breathing in. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor air quality (IAQ) can be up to five times worse than the quality of air outside. Why is that? These four reasons provide some insight.
1. Excessively Tight Home Envelopes and Their Impact on Air Quality
Airborne contaminants constantly enter your home as a result of normal foot traffic and daily activities. For instance, when you or someone else in your household pulls into your attached garage, the exhaust fumes from your vehicle’s engine aren’t completely dispelled before the garage door closes. When you exit this space and enter your living environment, some of these contaminants come in with you. Residents and in-home pets regularly bring pollen, dander, dust, and other allergens along with them in their hair or fur, on their clothing, and on their paws or shoes.
Tightening a home’s envelope involves sealing up cracks and gaps in building materials, adding insulation, and taking other measures that keep conditioned air from seeping out. Although this limits energy waste and reduces the amount of work that air conditioners and heaters must do, it also limits the inflow of fresh outside air.
Homes with slightly looser envelopes “breathe,” or draw outside air in via the small cracks and crevices that exist throughout them. This process of induction eventually stops when insulating and other envelope-tightening measures become too aggressive. Given that most residents aren’t keeping your windows and doors wide open when your HVAC system is on, no outside air is entering and the air around you is probably filled with contaminants that can’t be captured by your HVAC air filter. With this in mind, consider the constant build-up of particulates from everyday activities and the fact that much of what gets tracked into your home has no way to get back out.
2. Less Space and Less Ventilation Leads to Densely Concentrated Pollutants
The diminished or non-existent ventilation that’s often found in modern homes with tighter envelopes results in trapped contaminants. Fresh air can’t get in and stale air can’t get out. The finite room for air to move about, and the overall confinement of indoor air raise the density of contaminants. To better understand this effect, consider the impact of a sneeze within the confines of a cramped elevator. Everyone within the elevator will be impacted by the germs within the sneeze’s range. However, if you sneeze outdoors, these same germs will be rapidly disbursed to other areas. Even if you’re standing near someone who sneezes outdoors, you’ll have a lower likelihood of picking up their illness.
3. There’s Always Something Adding Contaminants to Your Indoor Air
Indoor air quality is constantly under attack. Residents with illnesses are regularly breathing out viruses, bacteria, and other germs. However, even normal activities like cooking, burning scented candles, or plugging in air fresheners contribute to decreases in IAQ.
Numerous factors contribute to indoor air pollution without any effort on the part of human residents. For instance, many building materials regularly produce off-gas chemicals. Unsealed particle board releases formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals. New paint, furniture adhesives, and adhesives from various types of flooring also produce contaminants.
Consider what might happen if you turned your air conditioner off, sealed up your windows and doors, and left for a long vacation. Although no one would be smoking in your home, using chemical-laden deodorants or body sprays, or disbursing store-bought surface cleaners, the air inside of your living space would be far more toxic than the air outdoors when you arrived. It doesn’t take human activity to contaminate the air in residential buildings. This is even more true when tightly built or tightly sealed homes prevent the inflow of outdoor air entirely.
4. Certain Household and Lifestyle Factors Create the Conditions for Mold
Despite its scary reputation, mold is an inherent part of nature. You’ll find it anywhere that has adequate moisture and heat. When you go hiking, cycling, or swimming in local ponds, you’ll be surrounded by fresh air, covered in sunshine, and co-existing with mold. However, your health won’t be any worse as a result. Although being around mold isn’t ideal, mold contact is way less impactful when it occurs outdoors.
Mold becomes problematic to humans when it grows inside their living or workspaces. Constantly breathing mold toxins has a significant and potentially long-lasting impact on human health. Prolonged environmental exposure to mold can lead to respiratory distress, ear infections, eye irritation, fatigue, headaches, and more. Unfortunately, many homes provide the ideal conditions for mold to flourish.
You likely have a mold problem in your home if you regularly have condensation on your windows or drywall or if your indoor air often has a damp, heavy, or oppressive feel. Dirty exhaust fans, incorrectly sized heating and cooling equipment, and large household sizes are all common contributing factors. With more people living in your home, you’ll have more people cooking, taking hot baths, and participating in other moisture-generating activities. Large households frequently exceed the humidity regulation capabilities of HVAC systems and necessitate the use of secondary dehumidification equipment.
Tips to Improve Both Your Indoor Air Quality and Resident Health
The first step in improving your indoor air quality is achieving the right balance between having a tight home envelope and having adequate ventilation. Although you don’t want your heated or cooled air to constantly seep outside, you do want the building to retain a limited ability to “breathe”. You can support the natural inflow of outside air can be supported by adding a mechanical exhaust system or other mechanical ventilating features.
Before adding more insulation to your home, beefing up your weatherstripping, or continuing to caulk every crack or gap that you find, have both your indoor air quality and your home envelope professionally assessed. A seasoned professional can make envelope and IAQ refinements that promote balance and support resident health.
Checking and replacing your HVAC air filter at regular intervals is an easy and effective way to maintain an acceptably high IAQ, especially if you already have a well-balanced home envelope and good ventilation. You can check this component every three to four weeks, and you should replace it every 30 to 60 days. When performing filter changes, check your indoor air vents for build-ups of debris as well. You can wipe your HVAC air vents down as needed.
Investing in better HVAC air filters is another worthwhile measure. A higher-rated filter will remove small airborne contaminants that typically pass right through standard filter designs. If you have ongoing indoor air quality concerns or troubles with humidity regulation, it may be that you need whole-house dehumidification equipment or the extra IAQ support supplied by integrated HVAC accessories. Air scrubbers, media filters, and whole-house air purifiers can remove micro-fine particulates that even high-rated HVAC air filters cannot.
Since 1984, we’ve proudly served Portland, Vancouver, Boise, OR, and the surrounding areas. We offer heating, cooling, plumbing, and drain cleaning services. We also offer cutting-edge indoor air quality solutions. If you want to help improve your home’s IAQ, give Apollo Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning a call today.